Is there a mold problem in the attic?
February 12, 2008 10:22 AM   Subscribe

How do I determine if there might a mold problem in the attic of a house we're interested in purchasing?

My wife and I are looking to buy our first house and we're interested in a place we saw last week.

A few days after the viewing, we received the seller's disclosure and there's a section that has us a little concerned. Under the "Roof Problems" section, the seller has checked the 'UNKNOWN' box and commented with "inside roof cleaned with borax and bleach". Sketchy. Some searching/asking around indicated that it's a common treatment for mold. We asked the seller's agent to elaborate and got this reply:

"Home inspector pointed out a substance in the attic in the new
section above the bay window area. It was suggested that the area be cleaned & monitored by administrator which was done by parties of the estate."

So we're heading over again this afternoon to have another look. The attic is a crawlspace and we plan on getting up there to have a closer look. What should we be looking for that might be indicative of a problem? And where? Is there any amount that's normal/acceptable and to be expected? I'm guessing no...

At what point should we run for the hills? Obviously, a mold test is going to need to be done along with the inspection, if we get that far. But we'd rather not waste money having them done if we don't have to.

Any tips would be helpful.

The house was built in 1930. The roof looks fairly new (still waiting on an exact age). We expect there to be some problems. But we're not going to pursue it if mold is going to be a big issue.

(Oddly enough, as I was typing this, I received a new email notification regarding Spore's release date. Maybe it's a sign...)
posted by csimpkins to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's probably not the answer you want to hear, but the situation seems pretty much cut and dry...

Either you like the home enough to take the risk on paying for someone to inspect the potential mold, or you don't.

I don't think anyone here can tell you with certainty that it's mold or that it's not, so your options are:
- It's not worth the risk/expense of inspection - cut loose and keep looking
- It's worth the risk/expense of inspection because you like the home

From option #2, you pretty much have 2 branches:
- If mold is found, will you cut and run or see if the owner would treat it -- will they pay for it to sell the house?
- If mold is not found, you buy the house.
posted by twiggy at 10:34 AM on February 12, 2008

If you want to buy the house, there's absolutely no way to avoid paying for someone to inspect for mold at this point. Don't freak out, old houses have all sorts of little problems. But given the magnitude of your investment how could you do anything but pay a little up front to inspect it?
posted by Nelson at 10:58 AM on February 12, 2008

This is not the end of the world, it seems to me, like mold inside of walls would be. Mold on the underside of roofing boards is caused by roof leaks, and it's unlikely to affect the indoor air quality, because air from your attic is not supposed to enter the house. If they put a new roof on, and then cleaned the mold, you should be OK. Obviously do test as suggested.

What I would be looking for is to make sure (a) the roof is good, (b) the attic areas are properly ventilated -- in a 1930s house, this might not be the case, although it says it is in the "new area." In the 30s and 40s, they even put insulation right up against the roof boards and sealed the attic tight, which is pretty much a recipe for mold on the underside of the boards. In any case, these are correctable problems, just make sure the seller does the correcting.
posted by beagle at 11:00 AM on February 12, 2008

Mold is everywhere.

Remember, there's a big difference between "toxic mold" and the stuff that grows on the loaf of bread you left out for two weeks or the stuff that's in the grout of your bathroom tile.

There is often undue fear about some fuzz on a board. A bit of fuzz in the attic does not necessarily mean that you need to send in the guys in hazmat suits to do a full-blown mold remediation.

Some people are really, really allergic to mold -- do you or anyone else who would be living in the house fall into that category? Do you have breathing problems? I think you'll need to balance your sensitivity and risk-tolerance on this subject against the cost of demanding further inspection and potential (seller) remediation.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 12:43 PM on February 12, 2008

your realtor or home inspector should be able to refer you to a mold testing specialist in your area. for health, safety, and peace of mind, shell out the extra few bucks it will take to have someone come in and do air checks and other tests for mold. be sure to check the area that was cleaned for leaks in the roof, that is a common 'starter' for mold issues.
posted by kuppajava at 1:10 PM on February 12, 2008

There are inexpensive mold tests available at Lowes or Home Depot. Also, this should be in your general disclosure, especially if you request it. "I want this house, but not until it gets a mold inspection" should motivate the seller and realtor to get that done for you---and no, don't pay for it.
posted by TomMelee at 1:55 PM on February 12, 2008

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